The Resurrection in Orthodox Iconography and the Marriage Gesture of cheir’ epi karpo

At SBL in November, John Dominic Crossan spoke about Eastern Orthodox iconography of the resurrection (I previously blogged about this). Here is an example of the iconography:

I was struck by the consistent depiction of Jesus grasping Adam by the wrist, which I assumed symbolized that the entirety of the salvation was accomplished by God, with humanity passively rescued and unable to contribute.

The day before yesterday, in a presentation by a colleague in Classics, I discovered that this gesture (usually referred to by the phrase cheir' epi karpo, “hand on the wrist”) is particularly associated with weddings in ancient Greek art. Here is an example:

So I wonder whether that symbolism was in view when this iconographic tradition was developed. Is the imagery intended to depict merely that Jesus “abducts” Adam from Hades? Or is the idea of the “bride of Christ” more to the fore?


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  • anthony

    really fascinating parallel


  • Brettongarcia

    If it’s marriage? Then note the sexual reversals here: when a male believer is “married to” Jesus and the kingdom, in effect a male marries a male, in many cases.

    The Bible’s positon on marriage in fact, is far, far more equivocal and open than Fundamentalists and “one man, one woman” doctrines assert. For example regarding gender? There is “neither male nor female ” in heaven; so apparently no marriage there, Jesus suggests. While polygamy seems approved in much of the Bible.

    God does not even seem to punish Abraham for loaning his wife to the Pharaoh.

    And if other times Paul – and eventually the Church – suggest that one might marry rather than “burn” (with lust, presumably), on the other hand ” it is also said that it is better not to marry” at all. So as to serve the Church more exclusively – as Catholic priests do. Priests here again being perhaps “married to” the Church, and/or Jesus in some partial way. Even before the 2nd Coming. As nuns are said to be married to the Church.

    Possibly it IS marriage therefore. Though there are other possibilities here. Including Adam being resurrected from the grave, as Orpheus returns from Hades. Or Adam and his spirit being saved from mere physical/corporeal concerns.

    In any case? Note many strange equivocations in gender and marriage – in the Bible itself.

  • arsenalite

    or what about the chance that grabbing someone by the wrist represents is for marriage… that may be a grim view of the ancient patriarchal power relations of marriage. either way fascinating.

  • Bob MacDonald

    Your question is consistent with the experience of many. The doctrine of the bridal aspect of one who believes is not well taught by the human church if we must judge from her recent history. The law – rules and regulations – are a funnel of approach only. They are a schoolmaster. Such an engagement is not entered lightly and cannot be entered through a moral gate. It is entered by faith – i.e. by baptism into the death of Jesus. This implies that all have died. It is a full ‘consecration’ (John 17:19). The resulting life of one who has undergone such a purification (1 John 3:3) is still a life where there is struggle, learning, stumbling, and trouble, (Psalm 3) but there is also something else. The experience of such a death is circumcision in the tradition of Torah. Israel as a whole provides an analogue to each new life in the new covenant. This is nowhere more clear than in the psalms – which need to be read closely in conversation with the one who effects the consecration. It is also clear in the instruction to read the Song – that the reader should identify with the part of the bride.

    The sense is also in Psalm 91:7 (H) A thousand will fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand // to you it will make no overture. Note: make overture, נגשׁ (ngsh) once in the Psalter, may imply sexual overtones.

    The sense is in fact pervasive in Scripture and highly focused in the Psalms. I only pick one example to show how easily it is missed in translation. It is not missed in the obedience of faith – or at least so I suspect. But it is missed if our obedience is only to our assumptions, confessions, impositions, and legalisms.

    The ‘grabbing’ if that is what it is is a lifting up נשא, a suitable word,

    gates, lift up your heads and be lifted up, doors everlasting
    and the king of glory will come in

    The temple of stones could scarcely comply with this order. But the temple of the body can comply. Perhaps the instruction in Psalm 24 is to us who have been lifted up on the cross with him that we might begin to live as he lived who was lifted up for us. Such a life will be one of justice and equity rather than social and cultural self-justification and self-protection.

    • Bob MacDonald

      I should also point out that a second word for ‘taking’ a wife is in Ruth 4 – when Boaz לָקַח 10 men of the city and Boaz לָקַח Ruth and Naomi לָקַח the child. Psalm 73:24 is a good touch on this among several others in the Psalms.

  • Susan Burns

    A derivative under the root word ‘ghend’ (to seize, take) is ‘beget’.